‘Teenage Dick’ is a wacky comedy based on Shakespeare’s Richard lll. The writing of the play was commissioned and developed by Apothetae theatre company, a company that serves to present and explore plays that illustrate the ‘Disabled experience’. This strange complex tale was magnificently written by Michael Lew, a Chinese American Yale graduate; it was then workshopped in 2016 when Lew was in his forties and premiered in 2018.
This co-production is a joining of Curtin Theatre Arts and the Centre for Culture and Technology, whose research areas are concerned with disability representation in the media.
This stunning 90-minute (no interval) stylistic production is by the Hayman Theatre Company, in the Hayman Theatre in Curtin University, Bentley. The play’s storyline is contemporary but heavily dependent on Shakespeare’s Richard lll, now based in a high school and with a few new twists.
The performances are nightly at 7.00 pm, until Saturday 15th October
As the playwright said, he hoped to “re-examine tired tropes about the disabled, create stories for people we’re not otherwise seeing, hire more disabled artists, and carry out a ground-up reconsideration of how theatres embrace the mantle of inclusion”.
This project, as well as tackling accessibility issues for disabled individuals, is having shows for the deaf and hard-of-seeing audience members, with Wednesday night’s show (Oct 12) having an AUSLAN-interpreted performance and Friday night’s show (Oct 14) will be audio-description supported.
Scene: Roseland. An American High School
Set: A ramp for wheelchairs leading to a high podium. Matte black 60 cm cubes as seating.
Props: Ella Randle
Production Manager: Stephen Carr
Lighting: Excellent mood lighting by Katharina Brieden
Audio Visual Designer: Sebastian Boyd has employed Richard lll’s mobile phone on his wheelchair and projected his thought and conversations onto a screen at the rear of the stage. The demise of Richard is signified by the melting of his crown – very clever AV work.
Stage Manager: Paige Celenza helped keep the play’s pace up.
Sixteen years old Richard (Crystal Nguyen understudied by Zoe Garciano) is a disabled student who is constantly bullied and mocked by the other students; he is even looked down upon and spoken to in a patronising way by the kinder ones. In his group there is another student, Buck (Elysha Hayes) who is struggling to cope with a leg disability. Their tutor, Elizabeth (Lilian Tran) is a caring dedicated optimist.
For years, the school’s loud-mouthed footballer and heartthrob, Eddi (Rhys Healy) has been House President. Eddi’s latest conquest is dancing student, Anne Margaret (Tiandra Seal). Richard has watched as this egotist has converted the students to his warped way of thinking.
Richard decides that something must be done, he will stand in the next election as an ambassador for all. However, Bible thumping Clarissa (Josie Walsh) decides she too should stand and ‘save’ the school from the Devil’s sin.
The battle is on!
Costume Designer Danika Bentley and her costume assistant Lizzie McLean have created a school uniform of white shirts with a college badge and scarlet skirts or trousers. Well styled and fitted.
Dan Graham is a talented guest director (also with a disability) who has been flown over from Sydney especially to direct this production. With his Assistant Director and award-winning playwright, WA’s very own Dr Suzanne Ingelbrecht the show became one of the most powerful and brilliantly conceived that I have seen for many months.
Five years ago, ex-Curtin theatre student Kate Mulvaney OAM, who also has a serious spine problem, played Richard lll at the Sydney Opera House.
I have seen Crystal in several plays over the past couple of years and each time she leaves you impressed by her acting skills, not as a disabled actor, but quite simply as a most capable performer. In this play Crystal really had a chance to prove how exceptional she is. For 90 minutes, non-stop, Richard was on the stage grabbing the audience by the throat and making them listen to every word he said.
Occasionally she would find herself slightly off her mark for lighting, but imperceptibly she managed to creep the wheelchair into the correct position whilst still delivering her complex dialogue. Her power of voice, the emotions in the delivery, her expressive face that with a slight flicker of an eyelid hinted at Richard’s devious thoughts and aims – amazing. When his college friends became condescending, Richard would regain power by quoting intricate passages from Shakespeare that left them floored.
The other cast members had a full understanding of their multifaceted characters, sometimes showing warmth but mostly expressing anger, frustration and cruelty to each other. No one was what they seemed at first. Tremendous cast chemistry throughout.
Thankfully, within seconds the audience totally forgot the wheelchair, and within a minute we accepted that the lead was a powerful actor. This part called for Richard’s disability to be at the fore and to be willing to have cruel comments thrown at Richard throughout the play. Truly, Crystal’s courageous performance was the best I have seen this year in both community and professional theatre. I cringe to think that an able-bodied actor would be asked to play this part. This is a clever play that should not be missed, it was funny, sad, invoked anger and admiration. WOW!. The standing ovation was well deserved.